Two more facts from the 1970 census report are pertinent to this discussion: Randall County has the third highest median family income in the state and the largest proliferation of telephones one or more phones in 95 percent of all dwellings. Late one night, another statistic suggested itself to me. When I was nearly asleep, there came a sustained, excruciating blat from across the street, like all the trumpets and trombones of a Wagnerian orchestra playing a unison. By the third blat, I had managed to find my robe and slippers and had stalked out to the curb, cursing and peering. None of the parked cars and pickups seemed to be occupied. Another blat, and, perceiving that Valhalla was in the direction of the girls’ house, I started across the street and then saw the mother standing in her doorway. Was something wrong? “No,” she said. “He has a phone in his pickup, and when it rings, the horn honks.” Randall County would of course have it over the rest of the state for mobile telephones. We did not confine ourselves to our cabined solitude. We drove 72 miles to Pampa, or 96 miles to Miami or Dalhart, or 33 miles to look at the Tub Springs Ranch on the east side of Palo Duro Canyon. Even the flat drive to Pampa was not always dull, because the late-May rains, though too late to save much of the dryland wheat, had juiced the yellow clover up knee-high along the roadsides, and the cool pale-green throw rugs of Western wheat grass shimmered invitingly, and the young carelessweed at this Talking West Texan You can enjoy a summer in the Panhandle aurally as well as visually, observing not only the tint but also the tune of the place. Panhandle speech does have a tune. Travel and other vices have desalted myown Texas pronunciation. But when I hear a man start a narrative, “I told ol’ Flem, I said, `Flem, I tell you what,’ ” I envy him the chant he is formulating. The tune expresses a porch-swing intimacy that the bare words would not. The words themselves are colorful enough. Witness a bit of shoptalk from an exterminator pausing in his inspection of an Amarillo house to make a generous remark about a competitor. “He’s known,” the exterminator says, “as one of the best kills in this part of the country.” Shoptalk, though on a less specialized and more rural level than this, is an important element in Panhandle speech. Everybody knows that windmills operate with sucker rods, pickup trucks have headache bars \(over the cab, to lean water gaps in them during flash floods, wire gates have cheater bars \(or cheatthem easily, irrigation overflow runs into tailwater pits. Drivers in blizzards sometimes skid into the bar ditcha term that the Amarillo Globe-News spells “borrow” ditch, explaining that when the road was constructed, dirt from the sides was borrowed to build up the roadbed. The rhythmic pattern of those terms also shows up in personal names. Double names seem to attach themselves to females more often than to males, though Bobby Lynns and Jimmy Dales are common enough. Girls’ double names typically exhibit euphony: Vanita Beth, Shavon Renae, Kelly Je ‘Ton. \(I do not know how that apostrophe is pronames, not always euphonious: Jnita Jewel. Pseudo-male diminutives are popular: Henri Lou, Tommie Anna, Mary Tom. And there are Panhandle professional women with the given names Pawnee, Treasure, Cortez and La Quitta. Men’s given names often make sonorous effects in combination with the surLoring, Copus Boyd. Alliteration of given names with surnames is common: Felix Phillips, Kermit Kasper, Bland Burson andan eye alliteration only Men have a near-monopoly on nicknames: Gerald “Popcorn” Walters, Herschell “Beans” Gill, Alfred “Bud” Weiser, Windham “Windy” Morris, H. J. “Friday” Hughes. But a woman can sometimes earn one. Marian Jameson of Pampa has had the nickname “Tuffy” for a long time. \(Incidentally, or perhaps illustratively, she bought a utility vehicle not long ago for use on trips to her ranch, explaining that she got tired of her sedan “bottoming out every time I went over a Panhandle speech is tuned to casual, warm exchanges in parlors or kitchens and between pickup drivers stopped on a country road for a visit. It loses its swing and inventiveness in the presence of a microphone or a television camera. When a flea market opened in Amarillo, a television newsman, immortalizing the event, asked a shopper how she liked the place. Interviewer: “Is it what you anticipated?” Shopper: “Yes.” Interviewer: “Maybe I should ask, what did you anticipate?” Shopper: “Well, I expected something like this.” The speech is also a failure in print. It is speech indeed, neither transferable to pages nor much affected by things found on pages. You hear about someone’s trip to , Newbraska and Wes’ Consin, as if there might be an 01′ Braska and an Eas’ Consin. And you hear singular verbs with plural subjects: “Those that wants ICE-cream, holler.” Printed words and sentences seem to affect speech only in the wrong ways, producing, for example, the occasional pronunciation “Santa Fee.” \(Of course, this is not as bad as the British academics’ “Don Jew-un” and most of Texas, are unpredictably treated. Nara Visa, New Mexico, is “Narruh Vice-uh,” but San Jon is, as it should be, “San Hone.” And advertisers, like advertisers everywhere, have their own notions about the function of quotation marks: MISS NUDE WORLD PERFORMING “TOTALLY NUDE” 4 TIMES NITELY. BRING YOUR OWN “LIQUOR” AND “BEER.” No doubt “satisfaction” is “guaranteed.” But, though few serious writers have been able to get Panhandle speech into print, now and then a classified advertiser succeeds: “Why not let me show you 75 acres of good laying land fronting on the Blacktop?” “High gear crop does not go.” As I say, the page is not the proper forum for this language. A story from an 1891 newspaper in the archives of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society Museum in Canyon shows that the duel between speech and print started early: UNFORTUNAE. Alto, Tex. While running cattle yesterday morning B. F. Florence was dangerously injured by his horse falling on him and bruising him up considerable but on arriving at home he was surprised to find a twelve pound boy. Through the excitement his motherinlaw fell and broke her left arm. Doctors report all doing well. This is from the Floyd County Times, a little below the Panhandle, but the illustration serves. Panhandle speech is like Panhandle food:not often good in public places, but well suited to home consumption . Don Williams THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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